You’re Not the Boss of Me
“What would you do if a friend’s parent told you not to read a specific book?”
This was the question posed by Ellen Hopkins to a table of teenagers at the 2009 Anderson’s YA Conference.
And yeah. I know that was back in September. But the thing is, the issue of “appropriate” content keeps coming up as it relates to Ellen’s work. Some school districts and libraries are canceling her scheduled visits because certain groups of parent’s don’t want their kids to be privy to the subject matter of Ellen’s books.
This occurred back in September in Norman, OK. and more recently in Leroy, NY. In the case of Norman, Ellen had what I thought was a reasonable suggestion in response to one parent’s concern; allow the kids and their parents to opt out of the presentation if they so chose. But that wasn’t good enough, this parent replied.
“I don’t want ANY of the kids to hear Ellen speak.”
I’m sorry, but WTF? I’m not saying each parent doesn’t have a right to choose for THEIR child. I’m saying I have a problem with someone ELSE’S parent choosing for my child. And while there are those who think it makes sense, i.e. “We don’t want our kids exposed to the realities of the world until later,” (more on that further down), what if it were a group of parents forcing you to listen a presentation on White Supremacy? Holocaust denial?
Well, that’s crazy talk, right? Who would advocate that? Who would APPROVE of it?
But the principle’s the same; one or two parents (or even a group! hell, who cares how many?) deciding what YOU, as a teenager, can read. Now you’re OWN parent obviously has some rights there, but that’s a whole other situation, isn’t it?
Would you let your friend’s parent tell you how to dress? How to speak? How to write your name? How to wear your hair?
Knowing the teenagers I know, I think not.
How is this any different? And this isn’t a rhetorical question here. Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE teenagers. I adore your enthusiasm and passion for life and belief that anything is possible, and I learn from you guys every day. So, I’m really asking; How is allowing someone else’s parent to tell you what to read or listen to any different than allowing them to make other decisions on your behalf?
And if it’s not, why aren’t more parents – and teens, because you guys have a responsibility here, too, right? – speaking out against this kind of censorship?
Let’s put aside the fact that Ellen is the sincerest, hardest-working advocate for teens that I know. Let’s put aside the fact that she works tirelessly to get the word out to young people about the decisions they make now that can affect the rest of their lives.
In books like Crank, Glass, Impulse, and Tricks, Ellen writes about controversial subjects. Depression. Suicide. Drug abuse. Teen prostitution. I get that this makes some people uncomfortable. But do they think by ignoring it, you guys won’t be exposed to it? Are we REALLY at a place where we’re going to blackball a book (as one reviewer did after admitted to “skimming” Ellen’s book – I guess we’re past the days of actually reading a book before reviewing it) because of how many times it uses the word “fuck”?
Have these people ever ridden a middle- or high-school bus? Do they think you haven’t heard the word “fuck” – DON’T hear the word “fuck” on a daily basis? It’s just a word people. Don’t give it more power than it really has.
Or I guess maybe these same parents think these things only happen to “some” families. You know the ones – the one’s with… “issues”. Riiiiight. News flash! EVERYONE has problems. Even those of us who strive to be perfect parents, who put the needs of our children above all else, who are paying attention and talking to our kids about everything under the sun, well… guess what? We have problems, too. Our kids struggle and make bad decisions and make HUGE mistakes, too. They need to hear about this stuff as much as anybody else.
And doesn’t it matter that we have writers like Ellen who are speaking your language? That BECAUSE she’s speaking your language, you can more easily relate to the important, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching decisions teens face today? That because she’s speaking your language you feel like you’re hearing it from someone who KNOWS, not someone who’s just read about it in the newspaper and wants to feed you a campaign slogan like “Just Say No”? Doesn’t it matter that having writers like Ellen speak to you EARLY might save some of you from catastrophic decisions that will impact the rest of your life? And that Ellen does in it such a way that it stays with you, so that maybe, just maybe, when you’re at a party and someone offers your drugs, you WILL say no.
Not because you’re SUPPOSED to “Just Say No”, but because you have had a real and terrifying glimpse into the implications of saying “yes”?
Doesn’t it matter that Ellen can make you feel HOPE, so that the next time you feel full of despair, you might just remember that tomorrow is always a new day? That there’s ALWAYS a second chance for happiness?
These are the things that – as a parent and a writer and human being – weigh heavily on my mind. There are teens out there RIGHT NOW who can be saved by hearing Ellen’s message. They might be sitting next to you in Biology or English or Algebra. And you know what? Some of them aren’t going to get that message because someone ELSE’S parent says they shouldn’t have it.
You know what I think? I think it’s bullshit. And if it’s one thing I’m 100% sure of, it’s that no one can affect change like the young.
So what about you? What do you think? And what are you going to do about it when the opportunity arises?